An escape from reality sounds like something everyone could use right now. And though it’s never too early to talk about fantasy football -- it’s on diehard fans’ minds the day after the previous season ends -- now seems like a particularly good time to think about an alternate universe where you can control the fate of your team.
Luckily, although the live sports world is currently on hiatus, the NFL still had a ton of exciting news to deliver to us the past couple of weeks due to the tampering period, free agency and a bevy of trades -- some unexpected -- that shook up the league.
We’ve been over the teams impacted the most, either positively or negatively, in practical football terms. You can check that out here.
What we’re going to do in this article, though, is remove all the real-world implications of the various signings and deals in order to accurately reflect the fantasy impact of each big move. It’s not as easy as you might think.
For example, Odell Beckham’s move to Cleveland seemed to promise an increase in his fantasy value, apart from whether or not the Browns would actually benefit from surrendering high draft picks and Jabril Peppers. But, interestingly enough, Beckham had his worst full season of fantasy production in his entire career after the (in)famous swap.
There are several interesting moves to analyze ahead of the 2020 season. Which players rise up the draft boards? Which ones see their values take the biggest hit? Let’s dive in.
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
To the chagrin of many Patriots fans, Brady was commonly ranked somewhere outside the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks heading into the 2019 season. Experts knew that age could play a part, that he didn’t have too strong a group of receivers and that he had lost his biggest target in Rob Gronkowski among other factors. And, for the most part, fantasy experts were right. Brady finished as the No. 12 quarterback in total points and No. 16 on a weekly basis.
This year, Brady will be under center in a particularly pass-happy offense with two elite receivers (Chris Godwin and Mike Evans) and a pair of tight ends (O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate) that Brady could potentially take to the next level.
Though the Patriots were pass-happy last year as well (Tampa Bay attempted the fourth-most passes, New England attempted the fifth-most), they were not nearly as successful as the Bucs under Arians. The Bucs averaged 7.2 net yards per pass attempt, a top-five figure in the league, whereas the Patriots averaged 6.1 (No. 16). Brady can be drafted as a top-12 quarterback in fantasy football this year, and our hopes are that he can return to the top 10.
Both Kyler Murray and Josh Allen rise in the ranks given the new wideout acquisitions that have highlighted their respective team’s offseason so far. DeAndre Hopkins gives Kyler Murray a top-three receiver in the entire league. Josh Allen, who is an incredibly intriguing fantasy quarterback given his rushing ability and knack for finding the end zone (his 17 rushing touchdowns the past two seasons are first among quarterbacks by a wide margin), now gets to throw to Stefon Diggs, a proven route runner and deep threat that should help Allen develop into a more reliable passer.
Move both of these guys into your top eight fantasy quarterbacks and know that there’s definite top-four or -five potential.
DeShaun Watson, Houston Texans
Jameis Winston, FA
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
For the same reason that Kyler Murray moves up the rankings, DeShaun Watson falls. His ceiling in any given game remains very high, as regardless of who’s on the field, Watson can make things happen with his feet and awareness at any time, and the team will now depend on his ability to create magic more than ever. However, losing Hopkins is a massive blow to his floor and, likely, to his overall production. Hopkins has been targeted 487 times the past three seasons, and Will Fuller (166 targets) is the only other Texan who has even accumulated 100 targets from Watson over that time frame. Watson should still be a top-10 quarterback, but if his inconsistency in 2019 frustrated you, it may become even more of a factor in 2020.
The other two candidates for regression, Jameis Winston and Cam Newton, are on here given the uncertainty that they will even play in a regular capacity throughout the 2020 season. No one has shown definite interest in Jameis Winston at all, much less as a starter, which may be the money he’s seeking out. And with the recent signings of Teddy Bridgewater and XFL star PJ Walker, along with some tension between Newton and the Panthers organization, it’s tough to figure out what options he and the team have at this point.
If your draft was today -- which I really, really can’t imagine it is -- both of these guys are ones to avoid indefinitely.
Running Back Risers
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
Kenyan Drake is the biggest winner of the bunch, seeing as his primary competition (David Johnson) was swapped for someone who will receive a lot of offensive attention (DeAndre Hopkins) and that he’s getting a large chunk of change by staying in town on a one-year transition tag. Drake exploded once he came to Arizona in the middle of 2019, playing at a 16-game pace that would make him a top-tier running back in all of fantasy. His eight games as a Cardinal, when expanded into a full season’s stat line, would result in 1,286 yards, 16 rushing touchdowns and an additional 50 catches for over 300 receiving yards.
But where do you place Drake on the fantasy big board? Is he a top-ten back that can compete with the likes of Nick Chubb and Josh Jacobs for a backend RB1? Maybe, but it seems safer to take him somewhere between RB10 and RB15 and hope his ceiling is as high as last year’s little teaser.
Gurley, in signing with the Falcons, joined a team without too much surrounding competition and is now part of an offense that has not boasted a 1,000-yard rusher since Devonta Freeman in 2016. From 2017-2019, the Falcons are a bottom-eight rushing team in total yards. Obviously, the above statements reflect both the positives and negatives of the situation, but the Rams did not seem to be a conducive setting to featuring Gurley in the offense, whereas Dan Quinn may look for Gurley to bounce back and massive way and revive the formerly elite Falcons offense to its past success. He would have been an RB2 in LA, but could now foreseeably be taken as a low end RB1.
Melvin Gordon is out of LA, but so is Philip Rivers, meaning that the entire offense is bound to change if Tyrod Taylor is indeed the starting quarterback. This is where Austin Ekeler’s versatility as a runner and receiver will help his case, acting as a short dump-off target for Taylor, running option plays alongside the dual-threat QB and being leaned on heavily as a focal point of the offense. Ekeler sits at the back end of the top 10 or 12 running backs available.
The signing of Jack Conklin helps bolster the Browns offensive line and fix a big problem, meaning that Pro Football Focus’s No. 1 running back from 2019 should see his performance result in more production than it did last year. The team could also realize that their best chances lie in the hands of Chubb instead of with the inconsistent Baker Mayfield based on last year’s results. Chubb has the potential to be a top five back.
Jordan Howard is now a Miami Dolphin, meaning that 2019’s explosive rookie Miles Sanders will man the Eagles backfield on his own without splitting as much time as he had to concede last year. If the Eagles add some good receivers in the draft, and the big defensive additions make this team a tough one to score on, Sanders may find himself in a perfect situation to leap into the top 12 running backs.
Running Back Fallers
Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos
Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos
Gordon signed with the Denver Broncos on a two-year deal, despite a reported better offer. Revenge may have played a part in the decision:
While this may help the Broncos in real life, giving them a proven power back to lineup alongside the dangerous Phlilip Lindsay, both of their fantasy stocks plummet as a result of the dreaded committee approach. It’s impossible to imagine the Broncos choosing one of these guys as the definitive lead running back in each and every game, something that hurt Lindsay’s stock when Royce Freeman acted as the other running back.
Speaking of Freeman, he will likely be a popular trade chip that the Broncos have at their disposal. Should he find a new team that is in need of a running back, he may become fantasy relevant.
Wide Receiver Risers
D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
Will Fuller, Houston Texans
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
Teddy Bridgewater is a definite upgrade over Kyle Allen and Will Grier. A (healthy) Cam Newton is a definite upgrade over Kyle Allen and Will Grier. So either way you looked at how this offseason might turn out, D.J. Moore seemed to be a fairly safe bet to improve in 2020 after a solid 2019 campaign. But Bridgewater is definitely the better fit for Moore’s skill set, as his short ball accuracy should allow Moore to thrive after the catch and haul in a lot of receptions, boosting his PPR appeal. He can easily be a top 12 wide receiver.
Robinson gets another dream pairing with Nick Foles, who loves lobbing high deep balls as much as any other quarterback in the league. Robinson uses his big frame and incredible hands and concentration to thrive as a deep target and jump ball extraordinaire. His time in Chicago has been up and down, but that’s really only because of the lackluster quarterback play. Hopefully, with Foles in town, the duo of former Jaguars becomes a very formidable 1-2 punch. Push him into the high end of the WR2 tier.
Thielen, Fuller and Samuel benefit as a result of the departure of teammates, in Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins and Emmanuel Sanders, respectively. We’ll place Thielen at the back end of the WR1 tier, and both Fuller and Samuel are solid flex plays with the potential for top 20 results.
Wide Receiver Fallers
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
John Brown, Buffalo Bills
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
Tom Brady comes to town and someone loses value? What is this madness?!
But it’s true. Jameis was the league leader in passing yards by a pretty significant margin and was also the league leader in the unofficial stat “heaving the ball 40+ yards downfield to his 6’5” monster of a wideout,” which is a stat that Brady may not be able to replicate. Chris Godwin wouldn’t seem to suffer as much of a hit to his performance, as he can damage opponents after the catch more than Evans can. Evans is still a top-12 receiver, but seems to be second to Godwin at this point.
John Brown recorded 1,000 yards for an otherwise anemic Bills passing offense, but will now have to line up alongside Stefon Diggs. A move like this could help him if Diggs takes away a lot of pressure, but I can’t see Josh Allen providing two receivers with a 1,000-yard season given his sporadic nature as a passer and what past seasons have shown us about how the Bills operate. Brown is a flex option to start the year.
Julian Edelman will certainly still be a key figure in the Patriots offense and will perhaps even see an increased load depending on which quarterback ends up in New England. Edelman can run a variety of routes and get open for anyone. However, it just seems to be the natural order of things that his performance suffers from the departure of Brady. Still, he holds a ton of value, as he can immediately play to the needs of the new signal caller and will likely be deployed as the reliable safety blanket in this offense.
Keenan Allen has gotten used to Philip Rivers throwing him the ball year after year, and Tyrod Taylor simply doesn’t offer the same promise and consistency as the likely Hall of Famer had been offering for years. As a result, it’s harder to trust Allen as a surefire WR1 and he should be looked at as a mid-tier WR2 instead.
Tight End Risers
O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
Fantasy analysts loved O.J. Howard heading into the 2019 season. Loved him. So perhaps we should hold off lauding him as much as we did last year, seeing as Howard ended the 2019 season as the No. 31 tight end.
But have faith in Tom Brady and the Bucs to bring him back to levels of previous success. Brady loves his tight ends, and his lack of a reliable tight end last year showed in his and the Patriots’ performance. Apparently, the Bucs and Bruce Arians are really excited for the tight end and have been even before Brady was signed. The Bucs offense is going to be a scary one and Howard should be perhaps the biggest beneficiary of a new QB.
Similarly, Jack Doyle is now playing with a veteran QB who has a history of leaning on his tight ends. Formerly a Pro Bowl tight end when Andrew Luck was running the show, Doyle could rebound with a sturdy passing game in place. Additionally, Eric Ebron is now in Pittsburgh, meaning that Doyle should have a firm grip on the position barring any draft moves or signings.
There aren't any immediately apparent tight end fallers as a result of free agency, in terms of fantasy relevant performers.